The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) helps administer a voluntary, confidential reporting system where railroad employees can report close calls and unsafe events (e.g., a train going beyond the authorized maximum speed) that may have been caused by human error.
But as of August 2022, only 23 of the nearly 800 railroads in the U.S. participated in this system.
The Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) collects reports from railroad employees describing unsafe situations that have the potential for more serious consequences. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) spoke with participating railroads who cited multiple benefits, including increased safety information and improved safety culture. However, the majority of railroads, comprising approximately 77 percent of the total eligible employee population, do not participate in C3RS. Selected non-participating railroads told GAO that they have similar internal safety-reporting systems and also cited concerns about the program’s confidentiality as reasons for not participating. Federal Railroad Administration officials said that the potential for the C3RS program’s growth is significant and noted that the agency has ongoing efforts to increase participation.
The Federal Railroad Administration administers C3RS in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Both agencies have a role in analyzing and communicating C3RS safety information. GAO found that while FRA and NASA efforts to analyze C3RS data align with leading practices for safety-reporting systems, their efforts to communicate safety trends and success stories to the wider railroad industry do not. For example, while NASA produces quarterly newsletters highlighting broader safety trends seen in C3RS reports, not all are available to the wider railroad industry on either the FRA’s or NASA’s websites. Additionally, GAO found that FRA and NASA provide opportunities for participating railroads to share success stories, but that this information is not shared with the wider railroad industry.
By not effectively communicating C3RS safety trends or success stories to the wider railroad industry, GAO is concerned that non-participating stakeholders may be unaware of important and relevant safety information.
GAO is recommending that FRA improve its communication with the wider railroad industry by sharing information from the C3RS program including broader safety trends and success stories. FRA concurred with the recommendations.